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Aliens Are Us: Cosmic Liminality, Remixticism, and Alienation in Psytrance

Abstract

This article examines how popular culture is remixed for the purposes of facilitating mystical experiences within a global electronic dance music culture. In particular, it investigates the sampling of space travel and alien contact narratives within psytrance, whose DJ-producers are like media shamans remixing fragments from cinema, TV series, documentaries, NASA's lunar program and other popular cultural sources for gnostic purposes. I explore ways outer space travel becomes a narrative device for interior travels, the "hero's journey," and how the figure of the alien other allegorizes the potential for the discovery of the self. In the artifice of remixticism, the alien is a device for universal consciousness and self-empowerment, a process I dub alienation.
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... ltural resistance continue to shape the way scholars conceive of dance music communities. 3 Such scholars tend to offer interpretations oriented towards special, 'alternative' scenes that promote the experiential, spiritual or political significance of participation (Lawrence, 2003;O'Grady, 2015;Petiau, 2015;Pini, 2001;Rietveld, 2011;Schmidt, 2015;St. John, 2013;Van Veen, 2010;Vitos, 2014;Watson, 2004). Accounts by scholars such as Sophie Watson, for example, frame dance music cultures as instances of 'emergent democratic possibilities', without substantiating what these notions might mean in practice (2004, pp. 216-217). Making a similar argument, Van Veen (2010) sees rave culture as having 'di ...
... plicitly replicate the utopian undertones of McRobbie's original (1994) analysis. Without focusing on gender in particular, such works address the potential for particular dance music environments to foster countercultures of freedom, agency and alternative politics (Lawrence, 2003;O'Grady, 2015;Petiau, 2015;Pini, 2001;Rietveld, 2011;Schmidt, 2015;St. John, 2013;Van Veen, 2010;Vitos, 2014;Watson, 2004). ...
Article
Many practices of contemporary DJ-driven electronic dance music derive from 1970s club scenes in the United States, which were welcoming spaces for people who otherwise encountered prejudice for their gender identities and sexual orientations. Through their prominence in dance music literature, these scenes, along with British rave culture, have come to represent a broader conception of a global ‘alternative dance music culture’ that incorporates various communitarian ideologies—including non-discriminatory and non-patriarchal gender relations. In this paper I offer a critique of such celebratory interpretations. First, I suggest that these scenes, often framed as formative of dance music cultures worldwide, are exceptional rather than typical, and that their politics have been projected onto other scenes. Second, I highlight how troubling gender discrimination is present even in ‘alternative’ settings where participants are more conscious of political and social issues, including gender. I illustrate these points through interviews in a number of countries with women DJs who describe numerous instances of gender-related prejudice, and through interviews with men, who articulate some of these prejudices. The interviews reveal a series of dimensions of the gendering of DJ-oriented dance cultures, and how they are suffused with problematic attitudes towards gender. My research therefore challenges the celebratory interpretations of many DJ music scenes.
... Na música, o transe -não necessariamente associado ao Transe Psicadélico -é induzido de forma intencional para proporcionar ao público uma experiência, uma viagem, remetendo para jornadas psicadélicas com registos de sensação de alienação psíquica(St John, 2013). 12 Em novembro de 2015, a página do Boom Festival no Facebook tinha cerca de 180.000 likes (V. ...
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With new technological paradigm, network society and digital platforms emergence, the electronic dance music (EDM) configures itself. Neo-nomad, translocal and transglobal connected to some musical movements unfold a new transvirtuality as result of digital migration. The Psychedelic Trance is not just as a specific musical style but also the product of an alternative scene wrapped in natural, technological, creative, artistic, immersive and symbolic atmospheres, now reconfiguring itself in the transvirtuality of new digital territories. Between dance-floor, social networks and immersive environments, the natives are moving between the physical immersion and digital immersion, their culture disseminates like never has before, and Psytrance reborn.
... The music then becomes a critical media of temporal and spatial transportation in the imaginary of the participant. From telescopic excursions into outer space to microscopic journeys within the brain and to folk archaeologies uncovering answers among fictionalized ancients, the cosmos/nature is amplified in this music culture as a source of wonder, mystery and re/enchantment (see St John 2013). ...
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“Once I saw people applaud the sky” (Weil 1980). It was 7 March 1970, and later maven of integrative medicine Andrew Weil had become an eyewitness to an extraordinary life-­‐changing event. Under a clear Saturday morning sky, Weil had observed a diversity of villagers crowding into the market town of Miahuatlán, Oaxaca, Mexico, where they were exposed to a total solar eclipse. Marvelling at the sky, the locals are reported to have broken into a “spontaneous ovation of the heavens”. Weil describes the excitement: “With great drama, a nebulous darkness grew out of the west – the edge of the umbra, or cone of shadow, whose swift passage over the globe traces the path of the total eclipse.” The unearthly light endured for over three minutes, a temporality expanding into a prolonged present. Weil explained that there was a quality to those minutes within the umbra that must be like the feeling in the eye of a hurricane. After all the dramatic changes of accelerating intensity, everything stopped: There was an improbable sense of peace and equilibrium. Time did not flow. (Ibid.: 222) Indeed, it was three and a half minutes of clock-­‐time incomparable to any duration he’d previously known. “Then, all at once, a spot of blinding yellow light appeared, the corona vanished in the glare, shadow bands raced across the landscape once more, and the dome of shadow melted away to the east” (ibid.: 223). It was then that all of Miahuatlán broke into applause.
Thesis
The thesis is a mixed-methods, multimodal qualitative study that roots its analysis of social life in South Africa in the ‘ordinary lives’ of club-goers, aiming to paint a rich ethnographic portrait of club culture, whilst simultaneously building a scholarly analysis of racialised practices and identities within club spaces. The study positions itself as one whose focus is on ‘race trouble’ (Durrheim et al., 2011) and on the technologies, choreography, and architecture of race, rather than on existing theories of race or racism. It is a densely theoretical and philosophical piece of work and develops a detailed theoretical and philosophical framework for understanding how the racial subject is constituted and imbricated in and through the ‘vibe’ in clubs. It also considers some of the methodological and analytical issues that arise in relation to the framework’s application. The study sets out to achieve several broad aims. Specific aims are articulated in each section and unfold sequentially in relation to the problematics developed in their preceding sections of work. It begins with a brief review of the literature on club cultures, demonstrating that they are anything but homogenous, being shaped, instead, by the socio-cultural, geographical and political contexts in which they are consumed. The first aim is to address the problematics of ‘race trouble’ and club culture(s) by developing a Foucauldian-inspired theoretical framework for investigating the production of racial subjects and racialised forms of subjectivity, both in clubs and everyday contexts. Specifically, it draws on various poststructuralist methodological injunctions to craft a framework for exploring and analysing the relationship between the vibe and ‘race’, emphasising the importance of considering how race is co-constituted and ‘experienced’ through both discourse and spatio-temporal embodied practice. Following this contemplation of how ‘race’ has become a bio-political technology of power and a principle of governance in contemporary social life, the thesis commences an exploration of the ways in which regimes of power might constitute affective responses in the subjects they give rise to. To achieve this, it develops a theory of affect that can be employed to further the exploration of the possible relations between ‘race’ and the vibe, whilst illustrating that the realm of affect is an undeniably crucial component of both racialised forms of subjectivity and various forms of racism and ‘race trouble’. The primary aim here is to explore the overall topographies of the vibe—it’s “pipes and cables” (Pile, 2010, p. 17)—and how its various constituents and coordinates form the foundations through which affects flow and materialise, and through which subjectivities are born out of the embodied practices that are potentiated through the diverse configurations of the vibe’s assemblages. It is argued that the notion of the vibe, as developed within the context of affect theory, offers a novel way for researchers to attend to collective affects—and their related subjectivities—that are not simply reducible to the individual bodies from which they emerge. The thesis includes a methodology section in which the study’s research methodology is considered. An overview of the epistemological and philosophical assumptions that underpin the study is provided, along with an explication of the study’s methodological framework. Following the methodology section, a number of empirical sections are developed in which the preceding theories of the vibe are exemplified and applied to a sample of the discourses, talk and materialities that constitute South African (club) culture(s). The analysis begins by crafting a Wittgensteinian theory of the ‘everyday’ world of the vibe, through an exploration of the grammars of the “forms of life” (Wittgenstein, 1958, p. 226) in and through which the vibe is imbricated. Following Wittgenstein’s approach, the aim is to arrive at a ‘surveyable’ grasp of the (material) possibilities that the participants’ grammars of the vibe might offer, and to explore the ways in which the ‘pathways’ offered within the vibe’s forms of life might lead us to an understanding of the racial (im)possibilities offered to the subject, and how talk about the vibe is co-articulated with (racialised) embodied practice. The thesis then employs a discourse analytic approach to demonstrate how talk about the vibe is used by study participants to construct and rhetorically negotiate their lived experiences of (racialised) club cultures. This is followed by an exemplification of the ways in which race and space are “imbricated as they are constituted” (Conlon, 2004, p. 463) through routine practices and performances of the vibe. An empirical analysis of some of the key constituents of clubbing assemblages, such as music, dress, and dance is then conducted. The thesis concludes from within the space through which it was born: the assemblage of race trouble. Here, the surface of the present study is crystalised and reflexively critiqued through a psycho-mythopoeic narrative in which a world is imagined where clubbers, Wittgenstein, Foucault, slaves, bar staff, research methods, psychologists (in and beyond the Ivory tower), Deleuze, Guattari, managers of night- time economies, poets, subjugated knowledge(s), bodies-without-organs, and mad(wo)men are placed in the same narrative space as the author. Here, they are able to intermingle through the vast assemblage of the vibe that emerges as this diverse array of bodies—both human and non-human—is articulated through a language-game that struggles to make (non)sense of, and is, in part, inescapably structured by the shadow of the rainbow that is promised to them in the reflection of a dream that plays out through the “games of truth and error” that co-constitute the talk and embodied practice of the post-colonial nation-subject. Through the engineering of affective fields of force that work to inscribe themselves upon the reader in the mode of the festival, the museum, and the ship, the author composes a “history of the present” that carves out a liminal space of philosophical becoming for the subject of race, whilst, simultaneously, offering the epistemic and ontological resources for investigating race trouble through the vibe(s) of (de)colonising settings.
Chapter
The Cambridge Companion to Music in Digital Culture - edited by Nicholas Cook September 2019
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With clinical psychiatrist Rick Strassman’s DMT: The Spirit Molecule as a vehicle, the pineal gland has become a popularly enigmatic organ that quite literally excretes mystery. Strassman’s top selling book documented groundbreaking clinical trials with the powerful mind altering compound DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine) conducted at the University of New Mexico in the early 1990s. Inflected with Buddhist metaphysics, the book proposed that DMT secreted from the pineal gland enables transit of the life-force into this life, and from this life to the next. Since that study, the hunt has been on to verify the organ’s status as the “lightening rod of the soul” and that DMT is the “brain’s own psychedelic.” While the burden of proof hangs over speculations that humans produce endogenous DMT in psychedelic quantities, knowledge claims have left the clinic to forge a career of their own. Exploring this development, the article addresses how speculation on the DMT producing “spirit gland”—the “intermediary between the physical and the spiritual”—are animate in film, literature, music and other popular cultural artifacts. Navigating the legacy of the DMT gland (and DMT) itself in diverse esoteric currents, it illustrates how Strassman’s “spirit molecule” propositions have been adopted by populists of polar positions on the human condition: i.e. the cosmic re-evolutionism consistent with Modern Theosophy and the gothic hopelessness of H. P. Lovecraft. This exploration of the extraordinary career of the “spirit molecule” enhances awareness of the influence of drugs, and specifically “entheogens,” in diverse “popular occultural” narratives, a development that remains under-researched in a field that otherwise recognizes that occult fandom—science fiction, fantasy and horror—is a vehicle for religious ideas and mystical practices.
Conference Paper
The legacy of racism continues to permeate and destabilise South Africa. However, Durrheim et al. (2011) argue that existing theories of racism are no longer sufficient for understanding this complex issue within the context of post-apartheid South Africa. They suggest that: “Social change can only be informed by analyses of ongoing racial practices that are undertaken by people as they go about their ordinary lives: as people participate in forms of social life arranged around ideas about race, they are constituted as racial subjects in more complex and nuanced ways than can be captured by labels such as ‘racist’ or even ‘modern racist’”. While nightclubs and clubbing have become international social and cultural phenomena, they have received relatively little attention from South African academics. Likewise, there has been limited research into ethnicity and race in club culture abroad. Accordingly, this mixed-methods, multimodal qualitative study roots its analysis of social life in South Africa in the ‘ordinary lives’ of club goers, aiming to paint a rich ethnographic portrait of club culture while simultaneously building a scholarly analysis of the architecture and choreography of racialised practices and identities within club spaces. Drawing primarily on poststructuralist authors such as Judith Butler and Michel Foucault, the aim is to explore the ways in which racial subjects are constituted in clubs. The ‘vibe’ is appropriated as a theoretical and analytic device for exploring how, as ‘a repeatable materiality’ and discursive process, it re-inscribes ideas about race in clubs and mediates racial performativity, working to include or exclude particular forms of subjectivity. By employing a Foucauldian “movement of thought” (Rabinow & Rose, 2003) to analyse the social life of ‘race’, this study aims to develop an understanding of how people become subjects – in particular, how clubbers become racial subjects. Indeed, by exploring the ways in which identities and subjectivities are constituted, we can begin to elucidate how resistance to oppression, racial violence and social injustice may be possible. By exploring the architecture of subjectivity and un/freedom we can begin to move towards social change, and this is precisely what the present study has taken a tentative step towards demonstrating. Furthermore, this study has shown that, although infrequently, club spaces do have the potential to act as sites of resistance against South Africa’s racialised and divided past, and are capable of engendering novel forms of subjectivity. However, despite these utopian possibilities, the study has also demonstrated that club cultures continue to be plagued by profound ‘race trouble’, and thus require further attention from local academics.
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Although nightclubs and clubbing have become international social and cultural phenomena, they have received relatively little attention from local academics. Likewise, there has been limited research into ethnicity and race in club culture abroad. Drawing on the work of Durrheim et al. (2011) this paper argues that nightclubs represent ideal sites for exploring the complex issue of ‘race trouble’ in contemporary South Africa. It also suggests that existing methods for theorising race trouble can be usefully enriched through an engagement with the affective dimensions of processes of racialization. Accordingly, this mixed-methods, multimodal qualitative study roots its analysis of South African social life in the ‘ordinary lives’ of club goers, aiming to paint a rich ethnographic portrait of club culture while simultaneously building a scholarly analysis of the architecture and choreography of racialised practices and identities within club spaces. A purposive snow-ball sample of clubs and club-goers was recruited to this end. Drawing on the latest developments in poststructuralist and affect theory, the study aims to explore the ways in which racial subjects are (affectively) constituted in clubs. The notion of the ‘vibe’ is appropriated and developed as an analytic device for the theoretical exploration and analysis of the role of racialising affects in race trouble.
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This article offers detailed comment on the vibe of the exiles, a socio-sonic aesthetic infused with the sensibility of the exile, of compatriotism in expatriation, a characteristic of psychedelic electronica from Goatrance to psytrance and beyond (i.e. psyculture). The commentary focuses on an emancipatory artifice which sees participants in the psyculture continuum adopt the figure of the alien in transpersonal and utopian projects. Decaled with the cosmic liminality of space exploration, alien encounter and abduction repurposed from science fiction, psychedelic event-culture cultivates posthumanist pretentions resembling Afrofuturist sensibilities that are identified with, appropriated and reassembled by participants. Offering a range of examples, among them Israeli psychedelic artists bent on entering another world, the article explores the interface of psyculture and Afrofuturism. Sharing a theme central to cosmic jazz, funk, rock, dub, electro, hip-hop and techno, from the earliest productions, Israeli and otherwise, Goatrance, assumed an off-world trajectory, and a concomitant celebration of difference, a potent otherness signified by the alien encounter, where contact and abduction become driving narratives for increasingly popular social aesthetics. Exploring the different orbits from which mystics and ecstatics transmit visions of another world, the article, then, focuses on the sociosonic aesthetics of the dance floor, that orgiastic domain in which a multitude of “freedoms” are performed, mutant utopias propagated, and alien identities danced into being.
Chapter
-One of very few books on religion and popular music -Covers a wide range of musical styles, from heavy metal and rap to country, jazz and Broadway musicals -The essays are written by academics and informed by their enthusiasm for the music Many books have explored the relationship between religion and film, but few have yet examined the significance of religion to popular music. Call Me The Seeker steps into that gap. Michael Gilmour’s introductory essay gives a state-of-the-discipline overview of research in the area. He argues that popular songs frequently draw from and “interpret” themes found in the conceptual and linguistic worlds of the major religions and reveal underlying attitudes in those who compose and consume them. He says these “texts” deserve more serious study. The essays in the book start an on-going conversation in this area, bringing a variety of methodologies to bear on selected artists and topics. Musical styles covered range from heavy metal and rap to country, jazz, and Broadway musicals.
Article
Astrofuturism: Science, Race, and Visions of Utopia in Space is the first full-scale analysis of an aesthetic, scientific, and political movement that sought the amelioration of racial difference and social antagonisms through the conquest of space. Drawing on the popular science writing and science fiction of an eclectic group of scientists, engineers, and popular writers, De Witt Douglas Kilgore investigates how the American tradition of technological utopianism responded to the political upheavals of the twentieth century. Founded in the imperial politics and utopian schemes of the nineteenth century, astrofuturism envisions outer space as an endless frontier that offers solutions to the economic and political problems that dominate the modern world. Its advocates use the conventions of technological and scientific conquest to consolidate or challenge the racial and gender hierarchies codified in narratives of exploration. Because the icon of space carries both the imperatives of an imperial past and the d mocratic hopes of its erstwhile subjects, its study exposes the ideals and contradictions endemic to American culture. Kilgore argues that in the decades following the Second World War the subject of race became the most potent signifier of political crisis for the predominantly white and male ranks of astrofuturism. In response to criticism inspired by the civil rights movement and the new left, astrofuturists imagined space frontiers that could extend the reach of the human species and heal its historical wounds. Their work both replicated dominant social presuppositions and supplied the resources necessary for the critical utopian projects that emerged from the antiracist, socialist, and feminist movements of the twentieth century. This survey of diverse bodies of literature conveys the dramatic and creative syntheses that astrofuturism envisions between people and machines, social imperatives and political hope, physical knowledge and technological power. Bringing American studies, utopian literature, popular conceptions of race and gender, and the cultural study of science and technology into dialogue, Astrofuturism will provide scholars of American culture, fans of science fiction, and readers of science writing with fresh perspectives on both canonical and cutting-edge astrofuturist visions.